The Dangerous Myth of Human Rights

Even if I had done all the things the prosecution says I did, I would still not be guilty of any crime, because I am fighting against colonialism. We have heard such arguments in recent years from a variety of sources: IRA bombers, African National Congress supporters (bishops and necklacers), and Marxist rebels all over the world. However, on this occasion, the warriors against colonialism were a group of Puerto Rican nationalists accused of robbery and murder.

The announcer on National Public Radio did not even have to swallow hard or clear his throat. For years NPR has regularly aired the claims of would-be rebels against the American empire: leaders of the American Indian Movement, college-kid Marxists out on a spree, incarcerated armed robbers who suddenly "discover" that they are political prisoners—anyone, in other words, brave enough to shoot an FBI agent from behind a tree.

Most conservatives and liberals alike are willing to debate the fine points of right and wrong in the specific cases of El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan, but hardly anyone is willing to challenge the basic assumptions of the argument: that there is an international code of human rights which all nations are obliged (read: can be compelled) to live up to.

Human rights and democratic globalism were the trump card of the Reagan Administration's foreign policy. With it, the...

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